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Our Best Stuff From the Week Before Super Tuesday
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Our Best Stuff From the Week Before Super Tuesday

Mitch McConnell announces he’ll step down as Senate minority leader.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is seen outside the Senate chamber in the Capitol on February 28, 2024. (Photo by Aaron Schwartz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Hello and happy Sunday. Two news stories—one last week and one this coming week—tell us pretty much everything we need to know about the Republican Party in 2024.

Last Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader McConnell announced that he would be stepping down from his leadership role in November. The move was unsurprising—he’s had a series of health issues over the past year—but the timing caught his Senate colleagues off guard.

And this coming Tuesday, voters in 15 states and American Samoa will go to the polls. For the Republicans, 854 delegates are at stake, and Trump is expected to win almost all of them, putting him close to the 1,215 he needs to become the presumptive nominee.

But that is not stopping Haley from campaigning earnestly. From Dispatch Politics:  

“This may be the last stand for the last remaining Republican challenger to Donald Trump, who is likely to become the presumptive nominee soon after Super Tuesday, when most of the remaining states will award all their delegates to the winner of their state’s primary or caucus. The multi-state blitz could be Haley’s final opportunity to make a case against nominating Trump in front of actual Republican primary voters.

As I discuss a little bit below in my summary of Nick’s newsletter, Haley’s “burn-it-all-down” approach to her campaign has been refreshing, even providing a kind of catharsis for those who oppose Donald Trump and despise his takeover of the party. (To hear her discuss all this herself, check out the special episode of The Dispatch Podcast where she sat down with our own David Drucker.)

We know how Tuesday is going to go. Nikki Haley is almost assuredly not going to win any of those primaries. She may pick up some delegates in states where it’s not “winner take all,” and she may continue her campaign past Tuesday. But Donald Trump will become the nominee.

Which is why it makes sense that McConnell is stepping down. He will be remembered for many accomplishments during his decades in the Senate and his 17 years as the Republican leader, and he is in many ways responsible for the conservative majority on the Supreme Court. He’s always been a staunch defender of the Senate as an institution, but navigating his roles as Senate majority and minority leader since Donald Trump became the head of the party has been exceedingly difficult. He gave a forceful speech declaring Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the events of January 6, 2021, but then voted to acquit the former president during his second impeachment trial. In recent months McConnell has faced growing pushback from his colleagues on Ukraine aid and it’s obvious that Trump’s sway over some Senate Republicans has diminished McConnell’s influence.

As we noted in The Morning Dispatch:

McConnell’s speech stepping away from leadership revealed him as a man increasingly out of step with the party he spent his career serving. He mentioned Reagan no fewer than five times in his eight-minute-long remarks. …  Tellingly, though, he didn’t mention or even allude to Trump a single time, an indication of just how profoundly the former president has transformed the party of McConnell’s youth into the party it is today.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that “the GOP really is Donald Trump’s party now” because that has been true for years. What’s happening now is the last remaining guardrails attempting to keep him in check are vanishing.  

Thanks for reading. And a note: I am likely taking off newsletter duties next weekend as our son will be home from college for spring break. 

If you’re feeling a little glum about the state of the presidential race, take a spin through Nick’s Boiling Frogs from Monday, which we unlocked for all to read. No, he doesn’t see a way for anyone besides Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee in 2024. But he does note that Nikki Haley has “begun to conceptualize her bloc as a discrete dissident faction of the right.” The former South Carolina governor might not be able to win, but she’s still raking in donations, and her campaign events have a certain joie de vivre. “No one is under the illusion that she might prevail; her candidacy has become a protest vehicle in a party that typically brooks no protest against Trump’s leadership,” Nick wrote. “Every vote for Haley at this point is a show of righteous rebellion against him and an affront to his stultifying cult of personality. Why wouldn’t her supporters feel exuberant about participating in a cause like that?” For a somewhat related piece, David M. Drucker spoke with some of those disaffected Republican voters in South Carolina whom Haley is attracting. Many don’t sound willing to vote for Trump this time around—even if they did before—and most don’t feel welcome in today’s GOP. “I don’t like being told that if I don’t believe a certain way, that I’m not a Republican,” Mike Brantley, a 56-year-old Army veteran, told Drucker.

In Wanderland, Kevin lamented the state of affairs regarding U.S. support for Ukraine. But before he got to his main point, he argued that “Republicans have become the party of self-harm.” From vaccine reluctance and New Age quackery during the pandemic to squandering an opportunity to make progress on immigration because Sen. James Lankford deigned to work with Democrats on a package to enhance border security and provide more Ukraine assistance, Kevin wrote, Republicans in recent years have consistently shot themselves in the foot. “History handed the United States an absolute lay-up in February 2022, when Vladimir Putin’s puffed-up and incompetent forces marched into what turned out to be a Ukrainian meat grinder,” Kevin noted. “Russian forces can, of course, do a great deal of damage, and have … but they already have failed in their main objective, which was to demonstrate how effortlessly Putin’s forces could swoop across a neighboring country and impose Moscow’s will on it.” And yet, Ukraine’s fate remains in jeopardy: “House Republicans are sitting on Ukraine aid because they are in thrall to a middling game-show host.”

It can be hard to keep track of all the different legal entanglements in which Donald Trump finds himself, but Mike and Sarah do their best to organize it all in the latest edition of The Collision. They check in on the status of the election interference case, which saw a major development this week when the Supreme Court decided to hear arguments late next month on whether former presidents “enjoy presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office.” Then there’s the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case, the 14th Amendment disqualification case, the New York hush money payment case brought by Alvin Bragg, and the Georgia racketeering case—where most of the news involves District Attorney Fani Willis and not any of the actual defendants. Sarah and Mike review the latest and tell you what to expect. And don’t worry: They promise that next week they’ll cover President Joe Biden’s own legal woes.

Here’s the best of the rest:

  • As the war in Ukraine enters its third year, Leon Aron handicapped what the next 12 months could bring. “Substitute the Cold War for World War I, Ukraine for Czechoslovakia, ethnic Russians in southeast Ukraine for Sudetenland Germans, and the U.S. and its allies for the ‘Anglo-Saxons,’” he wrote, “and Vladimir Putin’s war eerily resembles Hitler’s prelude to World War II.”
  • Iranian-made drones were used in an attack that killed three American soldiers in Jordan, and they are also showing up on battlefields in Ukraine. How will the U.S. respond to this emerging threat? Charlotte reported a piece looking at that question.
  • In Capitolism (🔒), Scott Lincicome highlighted research showing that the level of remote work has remained steady since 2022. He says working from home is here to stay and that it’s generally for the better.
  • Charles Murray reviewed Rob Henderson’s new memoir, Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class. Henderson is half-Korean and half-Hispanic, but his childhood experience in the foster care system and being adopted by a blue-collar family offer many lessons on the problems bedeviling the white working class.
  • Brian Riedl has been banging the drum on the need for Social Security reform for ages, but it can seem like no one is paying attention. So he offered up a list of 10 myths that are holding us back from taking such reform seriously, debunking each and every one. 
  • And the pods: Last weekend, Steve, Jonah, Sarah, and Mike did a roundtable discussion about the future of the GOP at the Principles First conference. We published the conversation as a Dispatch Podcast—check it out. On The Remnant, Jamie Kirchick joins Jonah to discuss his new book, Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington and also how gay culture has changed since the 1980s. And on Advisory Opinions, Sarah interviews former Assistant Attorneys General Stephen Boyd and Jody Hunt, as well as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Prim Escalona.

Rachael Larimore is managing editor of The Dispatch and is based in the Cincinnati area. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she served in similar roles at Slate, The Weekly Standard, and The Bulwark. She and her husband have three sons.